Sunday, April 15, 2007

Emancipation Day Finally Gets Noticed: IRS gives all Americans an extra day to file taxes

Some might call it the best thing that the Internal Revenue Service has ever done, delaying the 2007 tax filing deadline in honor of Emancipation Day, celebrated annually on the 16th of April by the District of Columbia. Since taxes are normally due on the 15th, which is a Sunday this year, the due date would have been the 16th, but the IRS very wisely delayed one more day to respect the DC holiday (maybe to compensate for the shameful fact that residents of DC have to pay federal taxes even though they have no federal representation).

But ask most people "What do some Americans celebrate on April 16" and you are likely to get a lot of blank stares.

In fact, several countries celebrate Emancipation Day on August 1 because it was on that day in 1834 that slaves in the British Empire were emancipated. The DC celebration stems from President Abraham Lincoln's signing of the Compensated Emancipation Act for the release of "certain persons held to service or labor in the District of Columbia" on April 16, 1862 (better late than never some might say). According to Wikipedia, that act "freed about 3,100 enslaved persons in the District of Columbia nine months before President Lincoln issued his famous Emancipation Proclamation which presaged the eventual end of slavery to the rest of the nation."

2007 is actually a major milestone in the history of slavery as it marks 200 years since the British abolished slavery (the act took a while to reach the rest of the empire). Abolishing slavery is something of which the British are quite proud, but that pride is tempered by deep-seated guilt about their role engaging in, and profiting from, the slave trade. Indeed, some people in Britain marched 250 miles in yokes and chains this year as an expression of regret for Britain's participation in the slave trade and the enormous profits it brought Britain in the nineteenth century (arguably enabling the nation to reach the global pre-eminence it enjoyed under Queen Victoria and laying the foundation for levels of prosperity that lasted well into the twentieth century).

According to British-born Stephen Cobb, one of the Executive Directors of Dare Not Walk Alone, the sense of guilt regarding slavery is still quite strong in some sectors of British society. Says Cobb, "As a boy I learned about the evils of the slave trade in Sunday School and I think my life-long interest in issues related to Africa and African-Americans stems in part from that."

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